Mumbai: Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday extended a warm welcome to Gujarat Patidar leader Hardik Patel, a staunch opponent of the BJP, and promised to make him the face of the forthcoming Gujarat assembly elections.
"After Goa and Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat could be the next. If we contest elections in Gujarat, Hardik Patel will be our face," Thackeray said hinting at extending its wing of influence in the neighbouring home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, Thackeray made it clear that "nothing has been decided or finalized since it was their first meeting today".
Patel, 24, who arrived here on Monday night, claimed there was no political agenda and he had come to pay homage to Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray and seek (Uddhav) Thackeray's blessings as an 'elder'.
"Maharashtra is a land of valiant people and I have come to meet some of the good people here... Presently, the country is being run by undesirable people," Patel said, interacting with a crowded media contingent jointly with Thackeray at the latter's residence.
"I come here as a friend. Whenever or wherever they need me, I will stand by them. Gujaratis and Marathis are always united," Patel added.
To a question, Patel said he would support the 11 Gujarati candidates nominated by the Shiv Sena for the ensuing BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections but won't directly campaign for the party.
"I am still young and learning... Why should the Shiv Sena need me? It's a tiger and a tiger needs no one," said Patel, sidestepping suggestions of a possible tie-up with the Shiv Sena after his first meeting with party leaders on Tuesday.
On his part, lauding Patel's campaign for the uplift of the people of Gujarat, Thackeray said he (Patel) would be the face of the Shiv Sena in the next assembly election in that state.
"We always maintain our friendships firmly and never break them till the opposite person snaps it," Thackeray remarked in what was perceived to be a mild warning to Patel.
Reacting to the meeting, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis remarked: "The ground is slipping under them, so they have to call anybody and take such steps."
Patel is to take part in a road show for his friend Biren Limbachaya and Shiv Sena candidate in the BMC polls and campaign for him in Goregaon area of north-west Mumbai.
Around 15 percent of voters in Mumbai comprise affluent Gujaratis who are mostly into businesses, trading and entrepreneurship and are wooed by all political parties for the BMC elections.
Patel led the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) movement demanding OBC reservations for the Patel community.
Between August and October 2015, PAAS took out a series of mammoth processions and rallies across Gujarat after which he was arrested on sedition charges. He was released in July 2016.